The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

January 31, 2013

Downbursts blamed for damage

By CHERIL VERNON
Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE — Downbursts or straight-line winds left a path of debris across Crockett Road damaging a local business and church, as well as causing damage to homes off U.S. 84 East near Circle R Lake and FM 323 Tuesday ahead of a line of thunderstorms.

“By far the most damage sustained during the storm in Palestine was in the area by Walmart Distribution Center (No. 6005) and Crockett Road Church of Christ,” City of Palestine Emergency Management Coordinator Schelby Wells said Wednesday. “Fortunately, the people traveling down Crockett Road and people working in the warehouse were not injured. We are extremely fortunate.”

As the downburst hit, the distribution center’s roof buckled, spreading debris onto nearby Crockett Road Church of Christ’s parking lot and traveling across Crockett Road into a neighboring subdivision around 6:45 p.m. Tuesday.

“We did have approximately six or seven power lines that went down,” Wells said. “From my conferencing with the National Weather Service today and going over photographs, it looks as though from radar it was downburst winds that were approximated at 55 to 65 mph at that time.”

The damaged distribution center was closed Wednesday awaiting repairs.

“The last I was aware, it was not fully operational,” Wells said.

Anderson County Emergency Management Coordinator Tammy Lightfoot said several trees were reported down off of U.S. 84 East around Circle R Lake.

“It took a northeastern track, hitting Circle R Lake. Two houses were damaged. One carport/building was completely destroyed and a truck sitting under it was damaged. A barn off (U.S.) 84 close to CR 386 also had its roof damaged,” Lightfoot said. “On FM 323, three cars were damaged by debris when the wind came in.”

Data from the National Weather Service in Fort Worth shows the damage in and around Palestine was caused by straight-line winds.

“The outflow boundary of the storm’s pocket of rain and cool air surged well ahead of the main line of storms, so the outflow boundary was 8 to 10 miles east of the storm,” NWS meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh said Wednesday. “From science, we know tornadoes require access to warm, moist air at the surface in order to develop and there was no chance of a tornado being able to be developed in that environment.

“We recorded a west wind 10 minutes before the line of storms got there,” Cavanaugh added.

The storm’s roaring sound associated with a tornado also can be generated during strong winds, according to the meteorologist.

“Anytime you have strong, damaging winds it’s very common to hear roaring sounds while the damage is occurring,” Cavanaugh said.

Debris caught inside a downburst also could appear to be rotating as it is spinning and falling into any direction, Cavanaugh explained.

Elkhart resident Allison Williams and her daughter Catie, 8, were traveling north on Crockett Road and saw debris mid-air just as the downburst occurred.

“We had just gone through the red light on Crockett Road by the convenience stores and all of sudden the wind was unbearable and loud,” Williams said. “It was like in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ movie, seeing the debris going in a circular motion across the road and watching power lines snap and flash. I stopped my car, turned around and headed back the other way.

“It was very scary for me and my 8-year-old, who didn’t want to get hurt. We felt like it was a small tornado,” Williams continued.

A little earlier in the evening Tuesday, Frank and Elaine Hudgins of Palestine traded in one of their vehicles and signed the paperwork for a 2010 Ford Edge at a local dealership. They drove out to their son’s house off FM 323 to take their new vehicle for a spin.

“We went out there and visited with them for a while then left a little before 7 p.m. It wasn’t raining at that point, just a little windy. There were two trucks behind us. We were just talking about normal things when all of a sudden it got dark, just black. The wind started to blow real bad, so I told my husband to slow down and get off the road. Just as we did, that’s when we saw it,” Elaine Hudgins recalled. “It looked like a brown funnel and we were on the outside edge of it. At one point, it lifted our vehicle up on two wheels.”

In what seemed like slow motion, the couple watched as a log as wide as a dinner plate started coming toward their car.

“It was like watching virtual reality, we couldn’t take our eyes off of it. It just slammed into our front windshield. The window started to give and then pushed back. The car sat back down on four wheels and everything calmed down and it started to rain,” Hudgins said.

“It sounded like a cannon went off in the truck when the log hit us, just a loud boom. After that we were so shell shocked because everything happened so quickly.”

The people in the other vehicles checked on the Hudgins as they waited on emergency personnel to arrive on the scene.

“My car has $3,700 in damage just from what seems like a few seconds,” Hudgins said.

The couple was amazed that their windshield spidered but did not shatter, protecting them from the debris.

“The Ford Edge’s windshield is made to survive impact, one of the best on the market. I’m definitely going to write them a letter and tell them my testimony.”  Hudgins said. “We have a very strong faith and we know the power of God and we believe His hand was on the inside of the windshield protecting us, but Ford’s good glass surely helped.

“We were so amazed and shaken at what we had seen. It came up so fast, we didn’t have any forewarning whatsoever,” she said. “But we’re OK and our car is going to be repaired.”